Australian Hunter McElrea wins Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout

Hunter McElrea was the driver to rise above the rest at the Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout, taking the victory and with it a $200,000 prize to see him onto the 2019 USF2000 grid. It was a very closely fought competition between first the nineteen assembled drivers and then the six finalists, but McElrea just about edged out all the other drivers.

Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

After Saturday’s two sessions, each of the nineteen drivers was given feedback from the judges on their runs before they had one more session to impress on Sunday morning. With the first round done, the eighteen remaining drivers (one had travel issues and one dropped out after Saturday) were called to the pit straight to learn their fate in the shootout. The judges praised all of them for their ability to adapt to the unfamiliar Formula Mazda car and said that the decision to pick out six had been a very tough one.

The six finalists who progressed were:
Braden Eves (USA)
Jake Craig (USA)
Ross Martin (GBR)
Hunter McElrea (AUS)
Michael Eastwell (GBR)
Flinn Lazier (USA)

Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

These six then had to do two qualifying sessions before a mock race and then a nervous wait to find out who the judges had selected with the winner announced at 4 pm local time – over an hour after the race had finished. It was another tough decision for the judges who had to consider both on-track and off-track performances from the finalists, but ultimately it was McElrea who won it.

US-born but Australian raised, McElrea will return to racing in the US after spending all his single-seater career to date in Australia. His ticket to the shootout was gained by winning the Australian Formula Ford Series, a championship which he won by a margin of fifteen points over his closest rival. He took thirteen wins in the season as well as sixteen podiums and three pole positions, making him a more than worthy champion and now the winner of the shootout.

There are still plenty of opportunities for the rest of the shootout drivers to make it onto the Road to Indy, one of which is next year’s shootout. The full entry lists for USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights are due to be published in the coming weeks with all the series kicking off at St Petersburg in March 2019.

Featured Image: Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Road to Indy scholarship shootout begins in Arizona

This weekend, twenty young drivers from across the world will fight it out for a $200,000 scholarship which will see them onto the 2019 USF2000 grid. The youngest contestant, Colin Mullan, is just sixteen years old with the other drivers ranging from seventeen to twenty-five. The event is taking place at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park with the track action spanning over today and tomorrow on the 1.6-mile circuit.

The scholarship competition has been running since 2016 and this year there were twenty-five eligible feeder series with around four hundred drivers in contention for a place in the shootout.

The weekend kicked off out of the cars with a welcome gala last night where all the drivers could get acquainted with their fellow competitors and the judges.

Drivers will be in Formula Mazda cars, taking part in three sessions across the weekend – two on Saturday and one on Sunday morning. After the Sunday session, judges will cut the field down and the remaining drivers will take part in two qualifying rounds, setting up for a mock race at the end of the day. From this, the winner of the scholarship will be announced at around 4:00 pm local time (11 pm GMT).

The judging panel is a talented list of representatives from both Mazda and the Road to Indy programme. Mazda has sent long-serving factory representatives Andrew Carbonell and Tom Long and from the Road to Indy we’ve got Indy Lights race winner Tom Long, last year’s Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni and the very first shootout winner, Oliver Askew, who won the USF2000 championship the following year.

Coverage of the event will be provided by Road to Indy TV (http://roadtoindy.tv/) and it’ll certainly be something to check out if you get the chance.

The twenty hopeful drivers’ names, ages and nationalities are listed below:

Guillaume Archambault, 24, Canada

Dario Cangialosi, 18, USA

Bryce Cornet, 25, USA

Jake Craig, 21, USA

Allan Croce, 21, Brazil

Courtney Crone, 17, USA

Michael Eastwell, 22, UK (England)

Braden Eves, 19, USA

Flinn Lazier, 19, USA

Ross Martin, 19, UK (Scotland)

Hunter McElrea, 19, Australia

Matt Round-Garrido, 18, UK (England)

Colin Mullan, 16, USA

Tyler O’Connor, 21, USA

Ryan Norberg, 20, USA

Raghul Rangasamy, 25, India

Jason Reichert, 19, USA

Kellen Ritter, 17, Canada

James Roe Jr, 20, Ireland

Stuart White, 17, South Africa

 

Featured Image: Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Mazda Road to Indy: Patricio O’Ward

Patricio O’Ward, along with title rival Colton Herta, is one of the closest drivers in the whole Mazda Road to Indy programme to IndyCar with a 2018 seat firmly in the Indy Lights rookie’s sights. The Mexican is part of the Andretti family and currently leads Indy Lights, despite being one of only two rookies in the full-time field.

Emily Inganni – How is this season of Indy Lights going for you so far? Is it what you expected it to be?

Patricio O’Ward – The season has gone great so far. Honestly it is close to what I expected it to be… I knew I would have a great race car and it was just a matter of me putting everything together on the race track. And I knew I could win!

EI – As a rookie, what have you had to learn entering Indy Lights and how hard has it been to match the more experienced drivers?

PW – Almost every driver on the grid has at least double or triple the experience I have with that Indy Lights car, so I’ve been playing a little catch up and trying to learn as much as I can, especially in the ovals. But I think I got the hang of it pretty well! It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been something I have enjoyed learning and something I have enjoyed studying.

EI – With a declining number of drivers and teams, do you think Indy Lights has a problem or do you expect the numbers to go back up in years to come?

PW – I hope numbers go back up. The issue is that the championship is way too expensive.  That is the issue. If prices go down, then that’s the golden key to have more cars!

EI – As a whole, do you think the Mazda Road to Indy programme is successful at getting young drivers higher up the motorsport ladder? Are there any improvements that you would like to see in the future?

PW – Road to Indy is awesome. It gives drivers, especially the champions of each category, a chance to move up to the next one. The only thing I would change is the amount of $ it costs to do each class… especially Pro Mazda and Indy Lights.

EI – Many Indy Lights drivers have made it to IndyCar before with Kaiser and Leist going up for this current season. Do you see yourself following that path?

PW – I do. I’ll hopefully be in IndyCar next year and I am more than ready for the challenge.

EI – What is the support like in a big team like Andretti? Do you get much support from the IndyCar drivers or not?

PW – I don’t see the IndyCar drivers much, but the help is always there if I need it. I just haven’t really asked around much, but the team have given me an awesome welcoming to the team and any question I have, they answer!

EI – To finish, what advice would you have for young drivers starting out in the Mazda Road to Indy or lower categories?

PW – My advice is drive the heck out of that race car every time you get in it. You never know when is the last time you will be driving it so every lap, give it all you’ve got. People will notice, and you will get a chance sooner or later with the big boys if you have got the skills.

Thanks to Patricio for answering my questions, hopefully we’ll be seeing him in IndyCar very soon! That concludes our Mazda Road to Indy series, another huge thank you to all the drivers for taking part, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the interviews!

Mazda Road to Indy: David Malukas

David Malukas is fairly new to the single-seater scene and is only in his second year of the Mazda Road to Indy programme however, he’s already made it up to Pro Mazda at just 16 years old. The American took tenth in USF2000 last season, even though he missed the first four races, and is looking set for at least a top five finish with the top three only 20 points away this season in the middle class.

Emily Inganni – How has this season of Pro Mazda gone for you so far?

David Malukas – So far the season has been a rollercoaster. We’ve had so many ups and downs throughout the season so far but nonetheless it has been a big learning curve for me and the team.

Image courtesy of David Malukas

EI – How hard has it been to adapt to Pro Mazda as a rookie?

DM – Coming from the USF2000 series the Pro Mazda is a big difference. It has a lot more downforce and grip throughout the car making the driving style a lot different from the USF2000 car. Luckily, we were able to test the car quite a bit before the season started to get a feel for it.

Image courtesy of David Malukas

EI – What made you decide to move up to Pro Mazda rather than do another season in USF2000?

DM – Throughout my racing career my plan has always been to move up to the next class as soon as possible. The reason for it is because I end up racing against a higher level of drivers making me learn and advance quicker.

EI – Do you have any plans for next season yet? Do you want to stay in Pro Mazda or move elsewhere?

DM – Well as usual my plan is to continue to move up the ladder with no stops so moving up to Indy Lights isn’t out of question.

Image courtesy of David Malukas

EI – What do you think of the Mazda Road to Indy programme? Is it a good organisation for young drivers from what you’ve seen so far?

DM – 100% the Mazda Road to Indy program is absolutely incredible for young drivers to succeed and make their dreams come true of becoming an IndyCar driver.

EI – What’s it like, as a young driver, to be in the IndyCar paddock? Do you see much of the IndyCar drivers?

DM – It is very cool to be able to walk through the paddock and see how professionally operated everything is. I personally haven’t had the chance to speak to one of the IndyCar drivers, but I have seen them driving around on their mopeds, so hopefully one day I’ll be the one driving the moped.

Image courtesy of David Malukas

EI – What got you into racing in the first place and where is your end goal?

DM – It all started when I went with my dad to a local go kart track in South Bend, IN. I drove my first kid-kart and ended up really enjoying and continued to go. After some time, I got noticed by Brent Ebert, who wanted to help me on the coaching side and from there I went to my first professional go-kart race and within time I succeeded and followed the ladder up to where I am now. Like most drivers, my goal is to make it to Indy 500.

EI – Lastly, what advice would you give to karters starting their racing careers?

DM – Once you’ve gotten good in the class you’re in, make sure to keep moving up as soon as possible so that you could be surrounded by better drivers and learn quicker.

A huge thank you to David for taking part in the interview! The last interview of the series will be published tomorrow so keep an eye out!

(Featured Image courtesy of David Malukas)

Mazda Road to Indy: Igor Fraga

Igor Fraga has been at the sharp end of the USF2000 class all season, sitting in third in the championship with the two races at Portland remaining. Fraga races under the Brazilian flag and, despite growing up in Japan, made the switch to the Mazda Road to Indy programme for this season, having dominated Formula 3 Brazil Light last year.

Emily Inganni – How has this season of USF2000 been for you so far?

Igor Fraga – I believe that overall, it’s being really good season for me. I am a no budget driver, and to cut some costs, my dad it’s my mechanic, sometimes we slept on the rental car, I don’t have any coach and even with all the difficulties, I’m still running in the 3rd place on championship.

EI – How hard has it been to be a rookie in the series? Do you feel you’ve adapted well?

IF – I’m definitely learning each day in this series. It’s being a tough year, but I think I adapted well in the series. I’m enjoying each moment that the series is providing, on track and off track.

Image courtesy of Igor Fraga

EI – Do you have any plans for next year yet? Do you want to stay in USF2000, move up to Pro Mazda or something else?

IF – Until now, I don’t have any plans yet. How I said on top, I’m a no budget driver, so I depend on many circumstances. But if I have the opportunity, I really want to move up to the next category.

EI – How have you found the Mazda Road to Indy programme in your first year, do you think that it’s a good way for young drivers to progress?

IF – I believe that the Mazda Road to Indy is one of the best ways to become a professional racing driver. Not only on track but I’m having some off-track activities where I’m learning to deal better with the medias and etc.

EI – How does racing in America compare to racing back in Brazil? Is it what you expected it to be?

IF – I was expecting that the team and driver level was going to be really high. The engineers have a lot of knowledge and I’m enjoying competing here in the Mazda Road to Indy. I was just surprise about the off-track activities that prepare the driver professionally.

Image courtesy of Igor Fraga

EI – Where did you start racing, was it in Japan or Brazil? Also, what inspired you to race in the first place?

IF – I started in the go karting when I was living in Japan (3 years old). I was really small when I started, so I don’t remember to be honest. I just know that since I was young, I already liked to play with toy cars, racing games and I wanted to do the same in real life.

EI – Does racing in Europe appeal to you or would you rather stay in America?

IF – The racing in general interests me. I really like to drive something fast! I think that have some really good categories on both continents, and I’m really glad to have this opportunity to be here on US chasing my dream.

Image courtesy of Igor Fraga

EI – To finish, what advice would you give to young drivers starting racing? Are there any things you wish you knew when you started?

IF – Karting it’s always a good category to start. Also, with all the technology going on, the simulators it’s being really precise. My main advice is practice and prepare yourself the best way you can and don’t give up. It can be really difficult, but don’t give up and keep trying.

A big thanks to Igor for answering my questions. The next interview of the series is coming up tomorrow so stay tuned…

(Featured Image courtesy of Igor Fraga)

Mazda Road to Indy: Bruna Tomaselli

As one of only two women in the Mazda Road to Indy programme, Bruna Tomaselli may be in the minority, but she doesn’t let that faze her. Bruna’s been in and around the top 10 all season in USF2000, the lowest category on the ladder, and has high hopes beyond that with her sights set on IndyCar in the years to come.

Emily Inganni – How is this season of USF2000 going for you so far? Is it what you expected or not?

Bruna Tomaselli – The season is very competitive, since the first race there have always been little differences between the first and last, I have been constant during the season, we had good results, we added good points, and now there are 2 stages to the end and I hope to continue fighting between the top 10.

Image courtesy of Bruna Tomaselli

EI – What are your hopes for the remainder of the season?

BT – I hope to keep constant and competitive and I will fight for podium.

EI – What do you think of the Mazda Road to Indy programme? Is it a good platform for young drivers to progress?

BT – Yes, the Mazda Road to Indy is very good, I believe it to be one of the most competitive and well organized there is. Here the drivers have a chance to win cash prizes and a good amount also to make the next category, which is very important.

Image courtesy of Bruna Tomaselli

EI – What is your aim for your career? Do you want to get to IndyCar, go over the Europe or something else?

BT – My dream since childhood has always been to reach Formula 1, as we are now trying in the United States, I hope to get IndyCar one day, and be racing and compete because that’s what I like to do.

EI – Do you feel like you are treated differently as a woman in motorsport? Does it provide any different opportunities or challenges?

BT – In go-karting it is more visible, because the cars move closer, but in the open wheels I don’t waste so much, of course the boys don’t like to lose to a girl, the same way I don’t like to lose to anyone, but inside the track we are all drivers, and everyone wants to win and I’m there to win too.

Image courtesy of Bruna Tomaselli

EI – Thinking back to when you started racing, who were your idols and where did you dream of racing? Has any of that changed over time?

BT – My idol has always been Ayrton Senna, because he is Brazilian and because he is a legend, but as I could not watch his races, I always cheered for Felipe Massa and Bia Figueiredo who was an IndyCar driver.

I always liked cars and races, since I was kid, I used to play with little cars, and asked my father to drive his car. He noticed that I liked it and one day he took me to see a go-kart race. A few days later he said he was going to give me a kart as a gift, in the beginning it was more for fun, small races, in the region of my city, Caibi, Santa Catarina, Brazil, later I started to compete in bigger races and with 15 years started competing in open wheels. Now I’m 20 and this year is my second year in USF2000 and in every race I feel the adrenaline and how much I love to compete.

EI – Finally, what advice would you have for anyone starting racing or looking at racing in the Mazda Road to Indy programme?

BT – What I can say is that it is a very competitive programme, the races are all full of adrenaline and that is a good programme for anyone who wants to get to IndyCar one day, because you run in the same Indy weekend, know the track, the activities.

A massive thank you to Bruna for answering my questions! Another interview is coming up tomorrow so keep an eye out for that!

(Featured image courtesy of Bruna Tomaselli)

Mazda Road to Indy: An Introduction

While most of you will have heard of IndyCar, its support ladder, the Mazda Road to Indy, is lesser known, especially in Europe. The programme is made up of three racing series that incrementally get closer to IndyCar; the lowest is USF2000 with Pro Mazda next and then Indy Lights as the closest to IndyCar.

This whole set up aims to produce the next generation of IndyCar drivers and give aspiring talent a stage where all the IndyCar teams can see their performances and successes in the same paddock as IndyCar. The Mazda Road to Indy as we know it started in 2010 but the individual series have been going much longer, just not as a united body. One of the key perks of the Mazda Road to Indy is the scholarships provided to champions in it; each champion of the individual series is provided with a scholarship to the next series up, meaning that results are rewarded.

However, a recent announcement has given the Road to Indy programme a huge hit; after seven years, Mazda are withdrawing their sponsorship of the programme to pursue other ventures. This means the programme’s future is in some doubt because it cannot function without a title sponsor, but the IndyCar management seem optimistic that the ladder will not be without a title sponsor for long and are confident of its continuation. Something that does need to be addressed in the near future is the rising costs of both Pro Mazda and Indy Lights which is making it harder for teams and drivers to compete in those series – if the programme is to remain viable, the costs need to be cut somehow.

Regardless of these problems, all three series are going strong this year with one champion already crowned and two title fights that look like they could go right down to the last rounds at Portland.

USF2000 is the bottom rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder and has been running, in different variations, since 1990. 11 full-time teams field 23 drivers between them over 14 races, most of which shadow IndyCar, with the season ending at the penultimate IndyCar round of Portland. With the two Portland races still to go, series rookie Kyle Kirkwood has already clinched the championship in what is the most crowded series on the ladder, leaving Rasmus Lindh, Igor Fraga and others to fight for second.

In the middle of the programme is Pro Mazda which replaced the Star Mazda Championship in 2012, after that had run since 1991. The series champion is, as previously mentioned, awarded a scholarship to advance Indy Lights for the following season so it is a very important series to win for drivers coming up the ladder. Pro Mazda has 18 drivers and 9 teams, including Juncos Racing who are present in IndyCar. Rinus VeeKay has a 25-point lead over Parker Thompson with three races yet to run in a championship that looks set to go right down to the wire.

The top, but smallest, tier of Mazda Road to Indy is Indy Lights which has been running as an IndyCar sanctioned series since 2002. This series, however, does have a problem or two – the field has been diminishing in numbers for the last few years, this year there are just seven full-time drivers and only full-time three teams, albeit including both Andretti and Juncos. Patricio O’Ward currently has a 32-point lead over Colton Herta in what has been a very close title battle, but changes are on the horizon for Indy Lights with a new five-year plan being set out. The aim is to reduce budgets while increasing prize money, testing and revising the IndyCar licence guidelines – all to make the path to IndyCar more accessible for the talent coming through.

The list of Mazda Road to Indy graduates who now grace the IndyCar grid is a very, very long one. Josef Newgarden, James Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones, Charlie Kimball, Kyle Kaiser, Matheus Leist, Carlos Munoz, Spencer Pigot, Zach Veach and Zachary Claman De Melo, along with many others, have all been a part of one or more rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder since it all joined up in 2010 so, clearly, it works.

The programme is the place to look for the up and coming IndyCar drivers with countless more names ready to be added to the above list when they too make the step up to IndyCar in years to come.

To showcase this, we will be publishing a series of interviews with drivers in various stages of the programme over the next week and, you never know, you may well be able to see some, or all, of them in IndyCar in a few years’ time!

(Featured Image courtesy of Igor Fraga)

Mazda Road to Indy: Rinus VeeKay

Rinus VeeKay is one of the brightest stars in Mazda Road to Indy’s middle class, Pro Mazda. He’s currently fighting for the title with fellow rookie, Parker Thompson, and, with only a few points between the pair, he has a very good shot at it. Although Dutch-born, Rinus’ aim is to continue racing in America, heading for IndyCar, rather than returning to Europe. Here is what he had to say when I talked to him in early July.

Image courtesy of Rinus VeeKay

Emily Inganni – How is this season of Pro Mazda going for you so far? Have you performed as you expected?

Rinus VeeKay – It’s been a reasonably good season so far, except of some mechanical gremlins. I swept the opening weekend in St-Pete and finished every race in the top 5, except for one DNF in the Indy GP because of a start accident. Toronto is coming up and I’m feeling really confident going into that weekend. I had two podiums there last year and the team and I are good at street courses.

(Rinus went onto sweep the Toronto weekend, taking both wins in a show a dominance)

EI – What do you want to get from the rest of the season? Is the championship still in your sights?

RV – I want to score the maximum points available! I think I’m still in a championship battle and I won’t give up, but I know it will not be easy. We’re going to some great tracks where I had a lot of podiums last year and the team is working harder than ever to get the maximum results.

EI – Is it any different to work with a team like Juncos that is in IndyCar as opposed to one that is only in the Mazda Road to Indy?

RV – There’s quite a difference. With the Pro Mazda team, we can also learn from Juncos and their own IndyCar team. I also get to visit the pit lane during the IndyCar races and listen to everything that goes on, which is really educational for me.

EI – Do you think the Mazda Road to Indy is successful at progressing young drivers careers?

RV – I think that the Mazda Road to Indy is the best series/ladder system to progress your racing career! With their unique ladder system and scholarships, they really give a driver the chance to get to the top.

EI – You’re Dutch-born so what made you decide to race in America rather than in Europe?

RV – I got scouted by the Mazda Road to Indy (MRTI) organization at the last round of the 2015 US Open Go-Karting championship in Las Vegas. They invited me to do a USF2000 test in in COTA. I got a look into the MRTI and I really loved it! I still think that it’s the best decision in my life.

Image courtesy of Rinus VeeKay

EI – Where can you see your career going? Do you want to carry on racing in America or return to Europe?

RV – I’m focusing to make a career in America and be a very successful IndyCar driver in the near future. I’m already training as hard as I possibly can to achieve my goal.

EI – Lastly, what advice would you give to young drivers looking to make a career out of racing?

RV – My advice to other young drivers is to keep moving forward and don’t think in the past!

A big thank you to Rinus for answering my questions, we’ve got another interview coming up tomorrow so stay tuned!

(Featured image courtesy of Rinus VeeKay)